Backgrounds of Operas

Synopsis of CARMEN

Boheme Opera’s production is updated to 1950′s Spain,                                            the Golden Age of Bullfighting

Act I. A square in 1950’s Seville, Spain, containing a cigarette factory and a guard-house.  The prelude introduces the music of the Corrida, then Escamillo, the bullfighter, finally the brooding, apprehensive motif of fate and Carmen’s obsession with it.

The atmosphere is heat-laden as Sevillians idly watch the world go by. Police officer Morales tries to pick up Micaela, who is looking for Don Jose and will return later, but the action proper starts with a march heralding the relief guard; children rival for their favorite matador. Corporal Jose tells Lieutenant Zuniga that the girls from the cigarette factory tend to be pretty, but that he has eyes for no one but Micaela, his country girl.  A bell rings; the male crowd anticipates the arrival of the girls, who emerge to sing melodiously about the factory’s produce.  Electricity is in the music as the ringleader Carmen strolls out of the factory to become the focus of all eyes but proof against any advances.  She sings a sultry Habanera. A musical reference to the fate motif brings Carmen face to face with Jose, who seems not to notice her.  She chucks a rose at him and runs into the factory, leaving him to pick it up as Micaela returns.  Micaela brings Jose money and news of his mother and they sing an extended duet full of charm but devoid of passion.

Shouts from the factory suggest that someone has been cut – by Carmen, cries one worker.  Zuniga tries to get sense from the hubbub, then sends Jose to sort it out inside.  He escorts Carmen out, but she answers Zuniga’s questioning only with humming and singing and Jose is instructed to cuff her hands. Zuniga makes out a warrant while Carmen urges Jose to uncuff her – because, she says, he is in love with her.  She is right, as is immediately clear when he joins his voice to hers, loosens the cuffs and lets her give him a shove and run off to freedom.  The crowd frustrates the police as they pursue her. Jose is himself arrested and sent to prison for his actions.

15-minute Intermission

Act II. Lillas Pastia’s tavern.  The prelude anticipates Don Jose’s entrance song of a little alter.  A crowd is drinking and carousing – policemen as well as bad girls Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes, who form a trio to sing a Chanson Bohemienne.  The policemen, including Zuniga, want to flirt, and Carmen elicits from him the information that Jose has finished his prison sentence. There follows the arrival of Escamillo, the matador, attended by an admiring crowd (Toreador’s Song).  He is clearly attracted to Carmen, but she brushes him off, at least for the moment, and, when he has gone, she does the same to Zuniga, all for love of Jose, whom she expects at any moment in the inn.  Lillas Pastia shuts the inn, and undesirables connected with the Spanish Mafia in the persons of Dancairo and Remendado emerge from the woodwork.

In a quintet of outstanding brilliance, they join Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes to plan that night’s foray.  However, Carmen says she will not join them, mentioning that she has unfinished business:  she is in love and they must go without her.  They can’t believe it and protest, but to no avail.

The sound of Jose’s voice is heard outside and Carmen begins to seduce him with a provocative melody, interrupted to her fury when he hears the bugle sound ‘retreat’.  He must obey what amounts to an order and Carmen teases him about his work ‘loyalty’. She is silenced only when he pours out his feelings in his beautiful Flower Song, a declaration of love wrung from the very heart.  Carmen returns to her taunting attack on Jose and embarks on an attempt to get him to join her hoodlum friends.  Don Jose is already almost in the net when Zuniga barges his way in, to be defied by Jose and disarmed by the thugs attracted by the noise of the fight.  Don Jose has drawn a knife on his superior officer and has no option but to join Carmen’s rowdy band.

Act III. Scene 1. A rocky spot outside of Seville.  A prelude of ethereal beauty is heard, all solo winds and strings.  It has little relevance to the action, but is a calm, introspective break in the story. The story continues to unfold when the hoodlums prepare to reconnoiter their route, the music featuring a large-scale ensemble with chorus. Jose cannot easily accept that he is a deserter from the police force. Carmen hints that their affair is winding down.  Frasquita and Mercedes spread tarot cards and Carmen joins them to read her fortune.  She foresees Death and her fatalistic creed dictates that she cannot evade it. Carmen’s gang prepares to move out.  The three girls sing a passage of high excitement and to Jose’s jealous indignation, promising to take care of the police guards.

Jose is left on watch and is out of sight when Micaela, led by a guide, comes to look for him.  Her famous aria , Je dis, is a beautiful lyrical invention, but Micaela hides when Jose takes an unsuccessful shot at a stranger.  Escamillo has come looking for a girl to whom he admits he is attracted, but it is not long before he squares up to Jose, the menace that Carmen (he has heard) once loved.  As Escamillo slips and looks likely to lose, their fight is interrupted by the returning thugs.  Escamillo and Carmen exchange glances, and he invites the whole band to the Corrida in Seville.  Micaela is discovered and Carmen advises Jose to comply with her plea to go to his dying mother.  Jose is frantic in one of the musical score’s most dramatic incidents, and the scene ends with the reiteration of Escamillo’s song.

Act III. Scene 2.  Outside the bullring in Seville.  The exciting orchestral opening is a Spanish dance.  Crowd animation precedes the entry of the various elements of the opening ceremonies, and eventually the crowd hails Escamillo himself.  He embraces Carmen and she is warned by Frasquita and Mercedes that Jose is lurking in the crowd. She confronts him alone but will not listen as his pleas turn to threats.  To the sound of applause for the victorious Escamillo, she hurls at Jose the ring he once gave her.  Seeing the ring on the ground, he completely loses his senses, and in a fateful moment of jealous rage, kills the Carmen he still loves.